A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a News Show Tenure Lawsuit Discussion…

…intelligent and informed debate!

Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, has a Sunday morning show on MSNBC, and on August 10th, she had a panel on to discuss the recent attempts to bring California’s Vergara v. California lawsuit against teacher tenure protections to New York State.  Her panelists were Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, Dana Goldstein, author and reporter for The Marshall Project and Derrell Bradford of the NY Campaign for Achievement Now and formerly of Governor Christie’s Educator Effectiveness Task Force.

From the opening minute of the first segment, it is obvious that Ms. Harris-Perry was not going to let Mr. Bradford get away with Campbell Brown like talking points unchallenged, and the rest of the panel was certainly not inclined to back off either.  Ms. Harris-Perry quotes directly from the language of the challenged New York statutes in response to the standard claim that teachers with tenure have permanent lifetime employment.  Mr. Bradford tried to sneak in another favored talking point of the anti-tenure campaign by claiming a time frame of nearly 3 years to remove a teacher under the law, but Ms. Weingarten immediately pushed back with the changes that have already been made to the law and the current, more accurate figure nearly 1/6th the time of Mr. Bradford’s assertion.

For once, a media discussion on these lawsuits was not a monologue, and the moderator of the discussion, while not claiming the “neutral” ground so cherished by many figures, did something, in my opinion, more important.  She did not set up conditions of “false equivalency” where someone like Mr. Bradford, whose own history in education reform and willingness to try to frame his advocacy of privatization of schools in civil rights terminology is neither upfront nor honest, is treated as having equivalent facts on his side even if he is prevaricating on most of them.  While this is not “balanced” it is absolutely fair, and it is the result of the host having actually studied the issues before moderating her panel and clearly noting that Mr. Bradford’s side of the debate is routinely distorting the truth.  Would that we could have that more frequently.

The entire segment runs close to 30 minutes, but is worth it:

Melissa Harris-Perry August 10th, 2014 Part 1

Melissa Harris-Perry August 10th, 2014 Part 2

Melissa Harris-Perry August 10th, 2014 Part 3

Melissa Harris-Perry August 10th, 2014 Part 4
One notable exchange happens at 5 minutes, 44 seconds in the second segment, where Randi Weingarten says:

RW: How do we attract and retain well-prepared great teachers for our most needy kids? Because what’s happening is just a few miles down the road in Westchester we’re not talking about this issue but in Rochester we are and we are in the places where there’s intense, real social-economic issues.  So why are we not having that conversation? That is the conversation we need to have. (Turns to Derrell Bradford) And what I would argue is that you need to give people better working conditions. We need to make sure that they don’t feel that they are going to be fired if they try something new or if they stand up for their special needs kids.  That’s what we’d like to do.

Pay special attention to Mr. Bradford’s body and facial language during this.  Twice, near the end, he purses his lips and looks down very briefly.  I am possibly reading too much in this, but to my eyes he is distinctly uncomfortable at not being able to simply say what he wants without challenge.  Understandable, as Ms. Weingarten just cornered him repeating a talking point based on out of date data.

It happens again in segment 4, when Mr. Bradford lengthily admits that there is no “one thing” that is driving the achievement gaps and states that inequality is “hardwired” into the system.  He does not explain how eliminating tenure assists that in any way, and he even makes an ironic statement to my ears that we attract the least experienced teachers to the most needy kids — when his stance on tenure would do absolutely nothing to improve that situation and could actually make it worse.  Ms. Goldstein then notes that we have reduced the achievement gap in the past when we “aggressively” integrated schools, and Ms. Weingarten again pushes on the need for resources and support instead of attack.  I’d invite any reader to look at the body language of Mr. Bradford here as well.  When Ms. Weingarten talks about the outcomes of the NYC Chancellor’s District and the proven value of attracting and retaining great teachers and giving them and their students resources.  Mr. Bradford looked, to me, like he was trying to figure out a way to sidestep that or dismiss it when time ran out.

When the echo chamber is filled with more voices and when the host has studied the issue, the corporate reform advocates have a much harder time of it.

I want more.


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Filed under politics, Unions

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